Bridging Science Education to STEM-Based Careers and Eco-Stewardship
Aquaponics is a sustainable and innovative form of agriculture that cycles water and nutrients between fish and plants. A team of students and faculty from three universities and an aquaponics practitioner from South Bend, Indiana designed and implemented a pilot program, “Aquaponics Across the Spectrum,” which was a STEM program in sustainability for students in grades 6 to 8. An after-school program consisting of five two-hour workshops, it featured an inclusive curriculum for both neurotypical students and students with autism spectrum disorder.
Curriculum topics included aquaponics system cycling, plant and fish anatomy and growth, and water chemistry. Students also built their own miniature aquaponics demo systems and presented them to friends and family at the end of the program. We had ten students in the program from a public school, Edison Intermediate Center, in South Bend, IN. Students were engaged during the lessons, especially during the hands-on activities and during iPad utilization. Recommendations for future repetitions of the program include eight full workshops, increased preparation before each workshop, and greater STEM integration (science, technology, engineering, and math).
As the individual running the sustainability minor capstone project, I led all workshops and coordinated their planning beginning in early 2014. I could not have Aquaponics Across the Spectrum without my student volunteers and collaborators from Green Bridge Growers, St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, and IU South Bend. This multi-institutional and interdisciplinary team made the curriculum possible and added a great deal of energy to the project as a whole. We hope to continue pursuing this teamwork in future repetitions of the program. Next semester, I hope to pass on the program to an undergraduate student, ideally a fellow sustainability minor. Green Bridge Growers is also eager to continue the program. Fortunately, future program facilitators will have access to our website, saved files, and recommendations for improvements. With its flexible nature, Aquaponics Across the Spectrum has a promising future.